Friday, May 26, 2017

PTA President & RIOC President Report On Roosevelt Island PS/IS 217 Courtyard Garbage & Rat Infestation Problem

Roosevelt Island PS/IS 217 PTA President Erin Olavesen reports on the garbage and rat infestation problem at the school's courtyard. According to Ms Olavaesen:

The administration and PTA met May 24 with both RIOC and RIRA to update them on the situation, and to see if they could assist the school in getting rid of the rats and finding a long term solution to deal with the garbage.

The most important piece that I'd like to communicate is there are no rats or rodents inside of school. 217 prides itself on being one of the nicest facilities in District 2 and Ms. Beckman has the expectation that it remain so. Safety of students is her number 1 priority. Students are not in danger by attending school.

I'd like to respond to the information given regarding organic waste disposal. The information provided by the cafeteria manager, Rosa Ramez, is incorrect. Ms. Ramez manages Manhattan school cafeterias where schools have moved to zero waste and have composting programs. Although 217 is a Manhattan District 2 school, our waste management services are provided by Queens. Composting is beginning to be implemented in Queens schools, but we are not close to that happening at 217.

217 is not breaking the law by placing food waste in bags on the curb. People have cited codes regarding food waste being required to be in sealed containers. Because school has daily pick up, this does not apply. Please see the attached picture. This is a photo from a Queens school directly across the bridge. This picture was taken May 24 around 1 pm. Their trash, including food waste, is enclosed in clear plastic bags.

217 is required to use the clear trash bags provided by the DOE. 217 is not allocated any funds to purchase any other trash bags. Both trash and recycle are placed in clear plastic bags. We have daily trash pick up and on two of those days there is also recycle pick up. On the two recycle days, the truck is a split truck, picking up both trash and recycle. The clear bags allow the Department of Sanitation to distinguish trash and recyclables.

A few days ago our custodial staff requested storage containers to hold the trash outdoors during school hours. The Department of Sanitation will NOT remove the trash from the containers. The custodial staff will remove the trash at the end of the school day and place the bags, as always, on the curb for trash pick up. The Queens Department of Sanitation typically picks up around 5pm but it can sometimes be as late as 9pm before the trash is collected. Unfortunately this means the trash will sit curbside waiting for the Department of Sanitation to arrive.

This is an example of the bins:

They are plastic and airtight. I think we should be receiving four of them from the Division of School Facilities. The custodial staff was unsure of the timeline but I am happy to check in and update regularly. The staff is hopeful that this will be adequate to store all of the cafeteria trash generated from breakfast and lunch. If it isn't we'll return to DSF and see if more can be provided.

Rossana and Aaron from RIRA listened carefully to 217's challenges and limits in the May 24 meeting. They will be updating the Common Council at their upcoming meeting.

RIOC came to school today as well. Susan Rosenthal and Shelton Hayes both were in attendance at the meeting. They visited the area with their rodent expert and brought his recommendations to the meeting and offered to connect us so that he could offer his expertise. Unfortunately, the limits of the DOE mean some of the suggestions were not things 217 is able to do. A suggestion was to use "mint bags" which rats do not like. Because the bags are not clear and because the school is not allocated funding to buy bags, this is not an option. The school is also not permitted to buy or use bleach as a sanitizer.

RIOC acknowledged the challenges, and agreed that the bins 217 will be receiving were not a long term fix. Susan Rosenthal agreed that to get a fix the situation would have to be escalated beyond RIOC and the 217 administration. They were happy to assist and reach out to elected officials and others to help find a fix.

217 being a NYC DOE owned property on a state owned island makes things complicated. We all agreed that the current system isn't working and we wouldn't continue to accept how things are done in Queens if they aren't working on Roosevelt Island.

One important thing to note is that 217 is waiting for the DOE to pave the area where the rats are currently living. In addition to creating a safe egress from the cafeteria, the area will no longer be a nesting area for rodents. It will also be easier to clean. The paving job is one that has gone out for bids and 217 is now waiting. Susan Rosenthal is looking into the possibility of RIOC being able to do something to excavate and remove the nests while we wait for the DOE to pave. I'm happy to update when more information regarding the timeline of paving is available.

I'd also like to mention that on May 24, I was in communication with Ben Kallos' office about bins and a long term solution. I'll update when I know more about what Kallos' office is able to accomplish.

217 and RIOC also have a meeting scheduled with the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene next week. My understanding is the meeting is to provide information on rat management. When more information about the agenda of the meeting or the outcome becomes available I will share that information.

Now, if you'd read all of that...

Thank you all for your concern and patience and trust. I understand the situation is upsetting and we all want to find a solution, and it can be difficult to sit and watch and not see immediate resolution. I appreciate the emails from islanders who have emailed me as fellow 217 parents, island parents, concerned residents, and representatives of various organizations wanting to offer help and support.

I encourage you all to attend both the RIOC meeting and the RIRA meeting to thank them for their dedication to working with 217 to find a solution that works for our community. Please continue to email me with your questions. I am happy to share what I know and find out the the information if I don't know.
During the May 25 Roosevelt Island Operating Corp (RIOC) Board of Directors Meeting Public Session, Roosevelt Island Day Nursery Executive Director Pamela Stark spoke about the PS/IS 217 courtyard garbage and rat problem. Ms Stark noted that the school's courtyard garbage and rat problem are also effecting tenants at the neighboring Manhattan Park 2-4 River Road building.

RIOC President Susan Rosenthal also spoke about the PS/IS 217 rat and garbage problem and what is being done to fix it

during her President's Report to the May 25 RIOC Board of Director meeting.

RIOC Director David Kraut thanked Roosevelt Island activist Frank Farance for bringing attention to this issue and Ms Rosenthal added
Frank has been a pain in my butt often, but I will tell you this time he was on top of a very serious problem and I want to publicly thank him.
More info on the subject available at previous posts on April 28 and May 22.

UPDATE 5/28 - Main Street Wire's Briana Warsing shares this video of NYC Sanitation picking up PS/IS 217 garbage from courtyard late Friday afternoon.

Roosevelt Island resident Raye Schwartz reported yesterday:
I just came home from the farmer’s market. I crossed the street and was aghast at what I saw, so I walked into the alleyway between 217 and 2-4 River Road and took some photos.

Obviously the trash is not at the curb and it is not being picked up!

Can we please stop this nonsense and fix the problem before one or more of the children and/or faculty become sick by getting bitten or get injured? And if the 217 principal denies that it’s her responsibility because it’s outside the school wall, then RIOC must assume responsibility.
UPDATE 5/30 - Video of rats in courtyard beneath school window taken this morning.